How You Talk Around Domestic Violence, ESPN Style

[Content note: description of domestic violence]

Mayweather is shirtless. We see him from the waist up. His forearms and hands are wrapped in white boxing tape. He is looking directly at the camera.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Last night, I was watching ESPN Sportscenter when they introduced and then showed this interview with boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. In the lead up to and before the interviewer, Stephen A. Smith, asks Mayweather about spending 87 days in jail last summer, no one on Sportscnenter actually mentioned WHY Mayweather went to jail. Have we gotten to the point where we don’t even care about that aspect of the story when it comes to athletes? Has the trope of the athlete-in-trouble-with-the-law become so ho-hum that reporters don’t find it necessary to spend 15 seconds explaining the details of it?

I’ll let this ESPN article from December 2011 explain why Mayweather was in jail:

Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a perfect 42-0 in the ring and has dodged significant jail time several times in domestic violence cases in Las Vegas and Michigan.

But his courtroom streak came to an end Wednesday when a Las Vegas judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to a reduced battery domestic violence charge and no contest to two harassment charges.

The case stemmed from a hair-pulling, punching and arm-twisting argument with his ex-girlfriend Josie Harris while two of their children watched in September 2010.

“His courtroom streak came to an end.” What is this reporting? How is it right in anyway to compare Mayweather’s boxing record with his ability to avoid punishment for being a serial domestic abuser? Are we supposed to snap our fingers as we swing our arm from our waist up and across our chest, indicating, “aw shucks, that Mayweather didn’t get away with it this time.”

In last night’s interview, Stephen A. Smith failed to tell us why Mayweather was in jail but gave Mayweather plenty of space to lament about how terrible those 87 days were in jail (Mayweather, after only two weeks in jail, tried to have his sentence lowered to house arrest but was denied that luxury). Mayweather said nothing about his crime or if he regretted his actions.

I will say that I would bet the woman he beat up breathed easier for those 87 days.

This kind of coverage makes me so angry because most people probably didn’t even think twice about the reason Mayweather went to jail because the way most sports media works, we are supposed to see athletes as the protagonists in their own story. It isn’t about what Mayweather did but what was done to him. It’s that kind of thinking that allows Stephen A. Smith to nod solemnly while Mayweather opines about being in jail and then move into a conversation about whether Mayweather watches video before a match of the boxer he will face in the ring.

This kind of reporting flattens all those things into the same story, gives them equal weight, belittling the reality of the crime that Mayweather committed (and, as I’ve recently written about, a crime that we hear about a lot when it comes to professional male athletes).

Sadly, this is a symptom of a larger culture that often ignores violence against women and that feels more comfortable relating to the perpetrator than the victim in these cases.

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